I was sat in the doctors surgery the other day, which is in itself a horrible experience. A room full of sick people, screaming children, heating ramped up to ridiculous levels, and nothing for entertainment other than some Readers Digest magazines that weren’t even written this decade. After sitting there for about 20 minutes a man came in, who was probably in his mid-forties. At first I didn’t pay any attention to him, engrossed as I was in June 2009’s Readers Digest. However, after a while it became impossible to ignore him. He started talking to people about everything and nothing, as well as swearing under his breath as each person was called ahead of him to see their doctor, and wondering aimlessly around the waiting room. A few of his bizarre words exchanged with people included “what finger do you wear a wedding ring on?”, “I’m hoping to be a body guard, not so I can smash peoples heads in though” and “I’ve probably got children somewhere, I was quite a lady’s man in the 80’s”.
The reactions from people in the waiting room included shaking heads, self concealed laughter, or just plain ignoring him and hoping he didn’t speak to them (we are British after all!). And I must admit I engaged in at least 2 of those reactions. Before I had chance to think any further I was called through to see my doctor (to an accompanying expletive from the aforementioned man, as he still hadn’t been seen).
It was only while I was walking home afterwards that I thought more about the man. He clearly suffered from some mental illness, the specifics of which, and the degree to which, I can’t really say. But I think it was clear from anyone who encountered him that this was the case. And what were people’s reactions, mine included? Laughter, anger and bemusement. This in a nutshell sums up attitudes towards mental health. It can be confused for rudeness, shyness, anger, oddness, and if people don’t have an understanding of mental health, then they can judge or be negative towards a sufferer, without knowing that they are. This is not a criticism aimed at people, because it’s not really their fault. It just so happens that mental health is such a complex, and misunderstood issue. Even people who suffer from it don’t really understand it! I find it very difficult to recognise and understand my thoughts and feelings, so God knows how ‘non-sufferers’ can.
Today there was a fascinating news article on the BBC website (Link to article), in which a study found that “19% of adults thought ‘one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower’. This is an extraordinary figure, although again, these people can’t be blamed, because if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, or know people that do, its easy to mistake or misunderstand the truth of the persons affliction. The findings concluded that “attitudes were also related to people’s knowledge and experience of mental illness”, and that “if you know someone with a mental illness you are less likely to hold negative views”.
I myself am always reading and researching, because it’s the only way that I can try and understand the complexities. And from this research it suggests that if everyone did this, it may help create a greater acceptance and understanding of the illness. David Cameron recently promised action on “treatable problems”, including mental illnesses and addiction. Lets hope that he breaks the mould for politicians, and keeps a promise!